A former Lutheran pastor sharing thoughts on faith and life. Please join the conversation! I love your comments!

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Liberation, Marxism, And Other Dirty Words

As I set out to write about Liberation Theology this week, I thought it might be a fairly mild blog.  Liberation Theology is about siding with the poor and oppressed.  Who could object to that?  Oh dear, naive, little me.  

Right away, when I typed in Liberation Theology, President Obama’s name came up.  Intrigued I followed the lead only to immediately find Glenn Beck’s name.  Oh dear, now I knew this was going to get ugly.  

Some of you may be wondering if I have been living under a rock somewhere.  Not entirely.  I was aware of some controversy surrounding President Obama and a particular pastor.  I kind of ignored the whole thing since I would hardly want to be held accountable for things I have heard my pastors say over the years and I know how laughable it would be to hold my former parishioners accountable for things I have said.  I am pretty sure some of my former parishioners disagreed with many, many if not the majority of things I said. 

Hence I missed the connection between the controversy and Liberation Theology.  I was a bit surprised then when I read about Liberation Theology being Marxist and contrary to Christianity.  The former I find irritating, the latter I find baffling.  

Liberation Theology is concerned with social justice and calls the church to be active in working against societal structures which cause poverty.  This theology talks about God’s  “preferential option for the poor.”  God’s love is universal but God shows a particular concern for the poor, oppressed and outcast.  This is contrary to Christianity?  To say so, one would have to ignore the prophets, the Sermon on the Mount, the life of Jesus, and a good portion of the Gospels.  Cut all that out of your bible and I think the rest would fall apart in a heap.  

As for Liberation Theology being Marxist, I think Marxist is being used as a dirty word.  We label something as Marxist and that means socialist, which means communist, which means evil.  It has very little to do with what “Marxist” actually means.  And this is what our public dialogue has become.  We no longer have to make reasonable arguments.  We just throw out dirty words like republican, or democrat, or socialist or conservative and then depending on what side of the dividing line we fall on, we automatically reject or embrace the topic at hand.   

That is not to say we need to uncritically embrace Liberation Theology either.  It can be a bit narrow in focus and of course there are those who take this theology to a violent or hate-filled extreme.   

Marxist or not, Liberation Theology has influenced people within the Christian church who live the love of God in concrete, inspiring, and courageous ways.  Oscar Ramero to name one.  Some branches of Liberation theology, such as Black Liberation Theology, Womanist Theology, Mujerista Theology and others, give some valuable insight and speak well to a particular people as well as providing necessary correction to some injustices.  Such a theology should not be dismissed lightly.

So, what do you think?  Are you a liberation theologian?  What does “Marxist” mean to you?  What are other hot button words we use which have come to mean something entirely different than their actual definition?


Charlene said...

I think if I still had the capacity for faith, I would embrace liberation theology. It has done a lot of good in the world.

I've read Marx, so "Marxist" to me means "agreeing with Marx". Which excludes most, if not all, of the well-known regimes associated with his name. (They used his name the way theocracies use the name of God; to legitimize an oppressive rule to the oppressed.) The naming of Obama as a Marxist is laughable to anybody who knows what Marx actually said.

My opinion on Marx: I thought his assessment of the problem was astute, but his proposed solutions had too much in common with those he claimed to oppose. Namely, he forgot that "labor" consists of human beings with needs for things like creativity, beauty, contribution, and self-determination. I think Tolstoy did somewhat better.

Sheri Ellwood said...

Charlene, thanks for your comment. I am lousy at remembering who said what so I had to look up Marxism when writing this blog. I had very similar thoughts to what you said. Didn't agree with him entirely but thought what was bad was more what others did with his words than what he actually said.